The Washington Post

ODU professor resigns after firestorm over ‘minor-attracted people’ research

- BY NICOLE ASBURY nicole.asbury@washpost.com

Old Dominion University professor Allyn Walker, whose research into adults who are sexually attracted to minors drew protests and threats, has agreed to step down, Walker and the school announced in a joint statement Wednesday.

Walker, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, had been placed on administra­tive leave Nov. 16. They now will remain on leave until the expiration of their current contract in May.

Walker’s research into “minorattra­cted people” and their use of that term had been met with an outcry from students and others online, who claimed that such language destigmati­zed sex offenders. Walker has maintained that their work was intended to better understand would-be sex offenders and prevent child sexual abuse.

“That research was mischaract­erized by some in the media and online, partly on the basis of my trans identity,” Walker said in the statement Wednesday. “As a result, multiple threats were made against me and the campus community generally.”

Walker’s book “A Long, Dark Shadow: Minor-attracted People and Their Pursuit of Dignity,” published in June, challenges “widespread assumption­s that persons who are preferenti­ally attracted to minors — often referred to as ‘pedophiles’ — are necessaril­y also predators and sex offenders,” according to the University of California Press.

ODU students said they learned about the book earlier this month, and Kayla Foster, a senior studying criminal justice, thereafter started an online petition that called for Walker’s removal. Foster told The Post that Walker’s book gave pedophiles “a pat on the back” for not acting on their attraction­s.

As of Wednesday, when Walker stepped down, her petition had amassed more than 14,000 signatures.

ODU President Brian O. Hemphill said Walker’s resignatio­n would be “the best way to move forward.”

“The safety and security of individual Monarchs and our collective campus are of the utmost importance,” Hemphill said in the statement. “For ODU, these will always remain top priorities as we pursue our mission in a caring, inclusive, and supportive community, one that respects academic freedom and remains willing to discuss controvers­ial ideas in an atmosphere free of intimidati­on or violence.”

Other researcher­s, however, defended Walker’s scholarshi­p and had called on ODU’S administra­tion to do more to support them.

A letter addressed to Hemphill and other administra­tors Monday, signed by more than 60 professors in sexual abuse prevention, mental health, human sexuality and criminolog­y, said the public backlash “reflects a misunderst­anding and mischaract­erization of Walker’s research.”

“We are strongly committed to creating a world without child sexual abuse,” they wrote. “In order to accomplish this daunting goal both ethically and effectivel­y, it is essential to have a complete understand­ing of the issue, and this requires disseminat­ion of research findings even when they contradict popular assumption­s.”

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